Monthly Archives: February 2012

“SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN”— A Conflicted Country

“Shadow of Afghanistan”

A Conflicted Country

Amos Lassen

We have certainly been hearing a lot about Afghanistan lately but I am sure that none of us have heard what we see in Academy Award nominees Jim Burroughs’ and Suzanne Bauman’s amazing documentary. “Shadow of Afghanistan” is a look at the country through the eyes of an Afghan warrior and through the eyes of some independent journalists who died while covering the story. The directors actually spend more than 20 years looking at the Soviet occupation of the country, the rise of the Taliban, the exiles of those who were hurt in Soviet mines, a civil war, the rise of Al-Qaeda and the invasion by the United States. We find Afghans who have remained loyal to their country and still plan on surviving there.

We really do not know much about Afghanistan aside from what we read in and see on the news. As Americans, we have witnessed a country which appears to be constantly in a state of change and with no remembrance of its past. We do know that the situation is complex and that seems to be enough for us.

The directors began filming in Afghanistan over 20 years ago and they are aware of the changing political nature of the country. We see here the complexities of politics, culture and religion and how these have been lost in the news about terrorism. We learn here about how the Soviets came to occupy the country and that the CIA financed Mujahedeen, how five million refugees were exiled, how any were harmed by working in Soviet mines. We become more aware of the civil war fought in the country and how regional warlords arose and of the alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda came to be and eventually caused the invasions by NATO and United States armed forces.

There were over 100 hours of film that were cut down to make this documentary. There are interviews with experts on the country and we see how they see things over a 20 year period. This is such an impotent film and even more so for the Muslim community because they have been so misunderstood and maligned since 9/11 and we see that just as the United States experienced terrorism that day so did Afghanistan.

“A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America” by Lisa Winkler— Miles Dean’s 5,000 Mile Journey

Winkler, Lisa K. “A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America”, Westwind Communications, 2012.

Miles Dean’s 5,000 Mile Journey

Amos Lassen

Mike Dean was on a quest to make sure that we would never forget the role that African-Americans played in the history of this country. When author Lisa Winkler met him she was sure that she wanted to write a book about him and so she did and here it is (and it is a wonderful read). Dean embarked on a six-month adventurous journey on horseback from coast to coast—from Manhattan to California. He made stops along the way at places that were important to African American history. He and his horse rode for over 5000 miles with the purpose of celebrating his heritage and as a result Winkler gives us this wonderful book that is a total treasure. Winkler was teaching at an inner city school in Newark, New Jersey and this was where she heard about Dean and his ride and decided that it had to be put down for others to read about. She tells us that it was Dean’s enthusiasm and passion won her over immediately and she fell in love with his stories.

There is a great deal to be learned here: There were African American US marshals who upheld the law and protected settlers; there was a ban against black cowboys competing against whites at rodeos and appearing in movies; Washington Square in Philadelphia was once the place for slave auctions; George Washington was a slave holder who brought his slaves to Philadelphia and in that way he could hold them and bypass a law that granted freedom after six months; the jockey on Man o’ War in the 1920 was Burns Murphy, a black man and son of a former slave who won three Kentucky Derbies and 44% of all of the races he participated in and there are many more stories. The book provides a sense of black pride and also clues us on in on so much that we do not know. It is wonderful for educators, students and ordinary people as well and I found every page to be a pleasure to read and had something that I did not know.

 

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“NO SUBTTLES NECESSARY: LASZLO AND VILMOS”— Lifelong Friends

“No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos”

Lifelong Friends

Amos Lassen

Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond are lifelong friends who work together as cinematographers and have had a tremendous presence on American movies. In 1956, they used high school equipment to film the Hungarian revolution and then became refugees when they fled to America and to Hollywood. They are considered part of the American New Wave.

Directed by Jim Chrissanthis, the film was two years in the making and we meet two men who totally love what they do and are happy to share what they know.

The film consists of “interviews with the industry’s top people (including Dennis Hopper, Sharon Stone, John Williams and Richard Donner), Chrissanthis molds a beautiful narrative of two men passionate about film and how they became like brothers through their struggles while going from “nobody’s” to two of the industry’s best assets”.

Kovacs sadly died while this documentary was in production but we still see enough of him and about him. He was a warm and loving person that contributed greatly to the world of film.

The film begins with a birthday party for Laszlo and then flashes back to the Hungarian Revolution and we then make our way through the twenty-seven films the two men made together in film school. It was smuggled out of Hungary with them. They came to Hollywood not speaking English and they really only had each other to speak to and we watch them as garbage men and then filming low budget movies and their friendship prospering during those hard days.

The film combines their life stories with stories of their craft and they are really remembered for the films they shot in the 1970’s and what we get is a very human tribute to two masters. Beginning with some really poor movies from Roger Corman, the two moved up the ladder of success and really reached their peak when Kovacs shot “Easy Rider” which opened the door for Zsigmond to get a job with Peter Fonda. The rest, as they say, is history and we were blessed with two of the finest cinema men that Hollywood has known.

“KAWA”— A Family in Crisis

“Kawa”

A Family in Crisis

Amos Lassen

I just finished watching the screener of an amazing new film, “Kawa” which will be released on DVD on May 8th from Wolfe Video. It follows Kawa, a successful businessman in New Zealand who is forced to admit to himself and his family that he is gay. Married and with two children, Kawa (Calvin Tuteao) was considered to be a prince by those that knew him and then everything changed. Kawa whose full name is Kawariki becomes the head of his extended family with his father’s retirement and he feels that in order to be honest and lead the family with integrity, he must be who he is and starts by taking his own apartment and moving away from his wife and children. He knows that coming out will not be easy and very possibly will test others’ ability to relate to hi and to love him. The Maoris of New Zealand have a strong tradition of family and a large set of cultural values. We, thanks to director Katie Wolfe, are able to see that here.

This is a multi-layered film that has something for everyone. It is visually beautiful and the acting is excellent. There is a great deal of emotion shown in the film and this one of those movies that keeps the viewer’s eyes wet.

There are several excellent scenes. One of them is when Kawa tells his wife that he is gay and another when he tells his father. All of us should be able to identify with what he was going through at the time and we hope that everything will work out. There were times that I was reminded on the older films when the gay guy would come out looking badly because he was not honest with who he was but an unexpected ending here saved the film.

I really found it interesting in seeing the Maori customs for head of the family and even hearing the language being spoken. We do not get many films about Maori life and one about a gay Maori is certainly a treat. I cannot recommend this film enough but be prepared to go on an emotional journey.

“YOU BELONG TO ME”— Obsession

“You Belong to Me”

Obsession

Amos Lassen

“You Belong to Me” is a surprising film and although I had seen it years ago when it came out; I watched it again and found myself surprised all the way through. Jeffrey (Daniel Sauli), a young architect moves into a new apartment and becomes the object of his landlady’s obsession. After a sexual encounter with a guy, Jeffrey sees the guy going into his apartment building and discovers that there is an apartment for rent there. He allows the landlady to show it to him and what began as a bad idea (his moving there) soon becomes a terrible nightmare. I found myself sitting on the edge o y seat as I watched. Lots of things happen that I can’t talk about it for to do so would spoil the film. The acting is excellent throughout and the plot ropes you in even though it is a bit thin. The story is fairly simple and while there is not much suspense there is mystery. There are twists and turns throughout and while we never know the landlady’s motivation for doing what she does, she certainly makes us wonder about her. It seems that she collects young men who live in her apartments and then suddenly disappear.

 

The film begins as a gritty look at New York City and it captures the city well. Jeffrey becomes enamored of Rene (Julian Lucas) who doesn’t return the feeling and Jeffrey pursues him. Jeffrey is tired of sharing an apartment with his friend Niki and on quick impulse decides to take an apartment in Rene’s building. He soon becomes the object of obsession of his landlady Gladys (Patti D’Arbanville) and things get really bad. Directed by Sam Zalutsky, we get a sense of horror that is never quite explained and comes across as a cat and mouse game showing the dangers of obsession. There is also Jeffrey’s obsession with Rene and then there are many unanswered questions—especially the conclusion which we are left to ponder ourselves.

I must give Zalutsky credit for his gay spin on a creepy movie which at times resembles “Fatal Attraction”. Jeffrey pays no attention to the stop signs that he gets along the way and proceeds to cement his own fate even though he did not know he was doing do. I found the film to be urban gothic and while not perfect, it held my interest throughout.

 

 

“Lustfully Every After” edited by Kristina Wright— Fairy Tales Retold— Erotically

Wright, Kristina (editor). “Lustfully Every After”, Cleis Press, 2012.

Fairy Tales Retold–Erotically

Amos Lassen

We all loved fairy tales growing up and now that we are adults we get to read them again with a slightly different twist. Kristina Wright has assembled 17 tales retold and what a pleasure to read. Hansel and Gretel were never like this. Little Red Riding Hood becomes the big bad wolf and Snow White has a lesbian affair with the little tin soldier gets into some great erotic mischief.

The authors included here are Anya Richards, Jeanette Green, Anna Meadows, Emerald, Michelle Augello-Page, Shana Germain, Kristina Lloyd, A.D.R. Forte, Donna George Story, Charlotte Stein, Sacchi Green, Michael M. Jones, Lisabet Sarai, Evan Mora, Lynn Townsend, Andrea Dale and the editor herself, Kristina Wright. There is a foreword by Sylvia Day and Wright’s introduction, “They Lives Happily Ever After”.

This is one of those books that is a fun read and every story is good. You do not have to think—just sit back and enjoy and every once in a while I love a book like that.

 

“HAPPILY DIVORCED”— 18 Years Later

“Happily Divorced”

18 Years Later

Amos Lassen

Fran Drescher and her husband (now her ex) were married for 18 years when Peter Marc Jacobson told her that he is gay. This TV series (which I missed when it was broadcast but is now available on DVD) is based upon their true experiences.

Fran Drescher gained quite a following as the Nanny and she prided herself on her sense of humor so much so that she would even mock herself to get a laugh. This show is Drescher’s so if you like her you will love it. The show focuses on a woman (Drescher) and her freshly out of the closet ex-husband (John Michael Higgins). They continue to live together and manage to get on each other’s nerves and yet still share some lovely moments. Drescher’s parents are played by Robert Walden and the wonderful Rita Moreno. Drescher learns that her parents always suspected that he was gay and they thought that she knew as well.

The show has all of the clichés and we have seen it all before and the staging and acting could be better but I actually enjoyed it and laughed a lot. After her husband shares his news about his sexuality, we jump ahead six months to find the two still living together and facing the challenge of getting on with their lives. Fran dates and meets Elliott and things go fine until Peter sneaks into bed with them and we find Fran and Peter living like an old married couple.

This is a simple and screwy comedy that is funny but it is no great shakes. Don’t expect anything wonderful or any great revelations but just sit back and tune in and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

“Twenty-Six” by Jonathan Kemp— Erotic Encounters

Kemp, Jonathan. “Twenty-six”, Myriad Editions, 2011.

Erotic Encounters

Amos Lassen

I discovered Jonathan Kemp by hearing about him on Facebook and then I went on to read his “London Triptych” which I totally loved. Since he is British it is a bit hard to find his books but once you do you will keep him on your favorites list. His writing is both visceral and vivid and his prose is gorgeous and erotic. His narratives are perfectly planned and his character development is wonderful. He takes the same care with his prose as he does with his characters and to read Kemp is more than just a read—it is a total experience.

“Twenty-six” or “26” is an explicit look at sex and language. Our narrator who is unnamed takes us cruising with him to parks and clubs as he pushes the boundaries of desire to receive the greatest pleasure possible. You can only imagine the way Kemp using language in his descriptions. Each chapter is named for a letter in the alphabet and we get details of encounters in each. Kemp is able to capture what happens in ways many others strive to do.

I was reminded of a course I took in college on discourse in which we discussed Bataille, Genet and Foucault and the similarities here are absolutely amazing. Because of just that, this is a very difficult book to review without giving something away.

The 26 of the title refers to the number of encounters that are powerfully erotic. Kemp explores sex in a way that surpasses eroticism and the encounters are anonymous in which there is only the pursuit of sexual pleasure. This is the kind of book that you have to read to believe and once you do I suspect that you will quickly become a Jonathan Kemp fan as I have.

 

 

“Purgatory” by Jeff Mann— North vs South?

Mann, Jeff. “Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War”, Lethe Press, 2012.

North vs. South?

Amos Lassen

Jeff Mann is one of my favorite authors whether he writes prose or poetry. He wonderfully provides the emotions of what he writes and he pulls us into his writing with ease.”Purgatory” his new novel takes us back to the American Civil War and we get the stories of two soldiers on opposite sides who become drawn to each other. One of them, Ian, is a Southerner who is tired of war and has seen too many men killed and injured and to make matters worse, his uncle is a commanding officer who has caused so much of the bloodshed. The other soldier, Drew is a Northerner who has become a prisoner of war by the Confederates and is forced into martyrdom as a representative of the result of the sins of his army. The two men are drawn together because of each other’s bravery, demeanor and spirit and they fall in love as captor and captive, warden and prisoner.

Mann gives us two wonderful characters here and they are perfectly drawn so that we really get to know them. From the moment we meet Ian we see that he is a strong and emotional person and I found myself totally engrossed with his character especially when he sees Drew captures and thinks about the feelings that quickly develop. Drew as prisoner is just what we would expect and as the two men get to know each other so do we.

The love story shows us the horrors of war and what happens when war causes a breakdown of rules of behavior. Ian and his uncle stopped transferring prisoners of war to prison and Sarge, Ian’s uncle prefers brutalization of them to prison. We learn that Ian had already lost one lover to the sadistic behavior of his uncle and now he is charged with keeping Drew alive just so he can torture him. Drew and Ian become intimately involved (as much as conditions would allow them to do). Ian finds ways to save Drew.

What Jeff Mann has done so well here is to describe the horrors of war from the smallest—lice and filth to the largest—murder and we see how men harden as they live through the trials of a war. Sarge is so sadistic and he hates anything that has to do with the north and we see him as graphically violent who is a true homophobe.

The major conflict here is between duty to the cause and the erotic. Conflicts are complex but can be dealt with and the characters are as complex. Ian Campbell and Drew Conrad meet during the last month of the war and they fall quickly in love. Ian is forced to choose between his responsibility to his country and the way he feels about Drew. It does not take much to guess which he chooses and while things may not be so easy for Drew and Ian, they at least have each other. I understand a sequel is in the work so that we will be able to get the entire picture when the war is over.

”In Exile The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar ” by Frank Perez and Jeffrey Palmquist— Remembering

Frank Perez & Jeffrey Palmquist Perez, Frank and Jeffrey Palmquist.”In Exile The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar ”, 2012.

Remembering

Amos Lassen

Everyone in New Orleans knows of Café Lafitte in Exile and I bet every gay man has heard of it. It is one of the oldest gay bars in the new world and certainly one of the most famous. There is an expression in New Orleans, “that’s when he lost his short pants” referring to when a boy becomes a man and many New Orleanians, myself included, lost their short pants at “Fifi’s”. I can remember walking the by bar before I had come out and accepted myself as gay and hearing someone inevitably remarking, “That’s a gay bar” and I remember the first time I went in—looking right and left before entering and making sure no one saw me. I was home at Lafitte’s as so many of us were and for me it is a place that holds many good memories. I often wondered why no one wrote a book about it and now someone has and it is quite a read. My eyes filled with tears several times as I read and I realize now what an important part of gay history, New Orleans history and my personal history, Lafitte’s is. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Lafitte’s is open and there is always someone there. One of my finest memories was coming back to New Orleans in 1989 after having been living in Israel for over 20 years and my first stop was Lafitte’s. It had not changed at all—sure the crowd was not the same but the bar looked exactly as I remembered it and eventually some familiar faces came in. Lafitte’s is every bit as important to gay history as is Stonewall but maybe not for the same reasons. Those of you who have been there on Mardi Gras before Southern Decadence replaced it as the major gay holiday know exactly what I mean. I met Tennessee Williams and Anthony Perkins and Raymond Massey there; I stood next to a United States congressman as he was being orally serviced one Christmas eve. It was and still is the place to start and end an evening in gay New Orleans and I suspect that it always will be.

This is a real look at gay New Orleans and the role that one bar has played and it is a wonderful read. Interestingly enough there has not been much written about gay New Orleans yet it is one of the places many think of when they think about gay life in America. The authors interviewed many gay men and women and were then able to give us this look at “The Queen City”. New Orleans culture and gay culture seem to go hand in hand and we are made aware of what it was like before we were so open and how it was to live a lie in some cases and to live in darkness in others. We get a look at what happened for New Orleans to leave the shadows and become an open and welcoming place for gays even to the point of hosting the biggest gay holiday of them all, “Southern Decadence”.

I was fascinated to learn that it was homophobia that led to the founding of Café Lafitte in Exile and how the bar became an integral part of gay life and has outlasted them all. The authors show insight and thoughtfulness in their writing and the book pulls us in on the first page and keeps us busy until we close the covers. Perhaps this book will cause other bars to do the same and we will eventually get a comprehensive history of gay America. New Orleans has always been a destination for gay people even though most of its history has not been known. Literarily speaking gay writers have come out of the city and there are also musicians, artists, and so on who are the result of having found themselves in the city. And I would be willing to bet that they all spent some time at Lafitte’s as it is referred to by locals. The authors here went to patrons of the bar to get the stories and as I read them I could not help but remember the times I spent there and you will see that if you have not been there you will surely want to go. Lafitte’s is representative of the charm of the city and vice versa.